Respected Asian American Lawyer Chosen as Top Trade Official By Biden

Katherine Tai

President-elect Joe Biden has chosen Taiwanese American lawyer Katherine Tai to become the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR), sources familiar with the decision say.

If confirmed, she will be the first Asian American, as well as the first woman of color, to hold the position.

Katherine Tai. Image Screenshot via C-SPAN

Experience: Tai, 42, currently serves as the top Democratic trade counsel for the Ways and Means Committee, the oldest committee of Congress and the chief tax-writing committee in the House of Representatives.

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  • Tai’s career at the USTR Office began in 2007 as an associate general counsel, according to Politico.
  • She is an expert on China’s trade policy, serving as chief counsel for the China Trade Enforcement in the Obama administration from 2011 to 2014, according to CNN.
  • Tai joined Ways and Means in 2014 and was named chief trade lawyer for Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.) in 2017.
  • She then played a key role in negotiating Democratic policies in the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) — signed by Trump and his counterparts in 2018 — by balancing demands of labor unions, corporate lobbyists, environmental groups and the administration, according to The New York Times.
  • Prior to her USTR career, Tai worked at several law firms (including Baker & McKenzie and Miller & Chevalier) and clerked for U.S. District Courts in Washington, D.C. and Maryland.

 

Personal background: Little is known about Tai’s personal life, but available information suggests she grew up affluent.

  • Tai was born to Taiwanese parents in Connecticut and was raised in Washington, D.C.
  • She is a graduate of Sidwell Friends School, a private institution that has educated generations of Washington elites and their children — including Biden’s grandchildren — according to the Wall Street Journal.
  • Tai earned her bachelor’s degree from Yale University and her law degree from Harvard Law School, according to The Hill.
  • Tai taught English at Zhongshan University in China’s Guangzhou province from 1996 to 1998 as a Yale-China Fellow.
  • She is also fluent in Mandarin.
Image Screenshot via C-SPAN

What backers are saying: Tai’s supporters believe her experience qualifies her to become the USTR, a cabinet-level post that requires Senate confirmation.

  • Last month, a group of 10 female House Democrats led by Reps. Suzanne Bonamici (Ore.) and Judy Chu (Calif.) told Biden that Tai is “uniquely qualified” for the job.
  • “As a Member of the House @WaysMeansCmte, I’ve worked closely with Katherine Tai on trade issues and know she is exceptionally qualified to serve as our USTR. And as Chair of @CAPAC [Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus], I’m thrilled to have such an incredible AAPI woman at the cabinet level to inspire others,” Chu wrote on Twitter. “As the first AAPI and the first woman of color to be USTR, Katherine is breaking barriers and clearing the way for others to follow.”
  • Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) urged the Republican Senate majority to quickly confirm Tai. “Her record of getting wins for American workers demonstrates she knows how to champion the values that matter to U.S. families,” Wyden said, according to the Washington Post. “She worked closely with me and my staff to craft the strongest-ever protections for American workers in a trade agreement, and pass them into law with bipartisan support.”
  • Clete Willems, a former top White House trade negotiator, believes Tai’s experience in Chinese trade policy will be helpful. “As the former head of USTR’s China trade enforcement, Katherine has experience bringing and winning joint WTO disputes against China while partnering with countries like the EU and Japan and is likely to pursue a similar approach,” Willems said, according to CNBC.
  • Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal said he “cannot speak highly enough” of Tai, whom he lauded for her work in the USMCA. “While I am very sad to see Katherine leave Ways and Means, she is absolutely the best choice for this critical position and I look forward to continuing to work with her in her new capacity. As the United States seeks to repair strained relationships with our partners around the world and address increasingly perilous challenges from China, Katherine will be an honorable and effective representative for this nation, our people, and our interests,” Neal said in a statement.

While Tai enjoys support at home, China “may not be very excited at all,” according to an academic and advisor for the Chinese Communist Party.

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“This might not be good news for China, given that she handled the trade disputes with China,” Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at Renmin University, told the South China Morning Post. “It is not an issue of her Chinese-language skills or ethnicity. We also need to observe whether she has real political influence on Biden.”

Feature Image Screenshots via C-SPAN

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